Israeli occupation stands in the way of Mideast reconciliation

January 20, 2004|By Yitzhak Frankenthal

RAMAT EFAL, Israel - In July 1994, as a young soldier in the Israeli armored corps, my son, Arik, caught a ride on his way home. In the car were three Hamas activists who kidnapped and killed him. My son was 19 when he died. It was not an illness or an accident that took my son away from me. He died simply because there was no peace.

I belong to the circles of religious Zionism and love my country dearly. I served in the army, as did my children - my youngest son will be joining the Israel Defense Forces this year. I care deeply about Israel, and this is where I want to live.

We Israelis treat the Palestinians deplorably, which is why we receive similar treatment in return. I do not condone killing for any reason and will not tolerate terror of any kind. I believe the Palestinians use terror against Israel because they are desperate. The ongoing occupation is a form of terror, which motivates the Palestinians to use terror against us.

Our reality is ridden with absurdities.

For example, the Palestinians need the support of the free world to apply pressure on Israel and get a state of their own. At the same time, Palestinian terror is a hindrance that prevents the free world from lending its support to Palestinian statehood.

Another example is the Israeli who says that terror will not be allowed to win. But terror has already won, since Israelis are now prepared to make more concessions than they were three years ago.

Most Israelis support the establishment of a Palestinian state, while at the same time a majority in Israel backs Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who does not believe the Palestinians should be given sovereignty.

Most Palestinians are in favor of peace with Israel, but at the same time most Palestinians support Hamas, which is against peace with Israel.

Still another example of the absurd, Middle East-style: the extensive support that Mr. Sharon has in Israel at a time when the economic and security situations are worse than ever. More than 800 Israelis have been killed by terrorists since Mr. Sharon took office March 7, 2001, compared with 422 between 1977 and 1994. Go figure.

There are more than 180 countries in the world, more than 6 billion people, and yet the Israeli-Arab conflict is on the news everywhere, nearly every day. There are two chief reasons:

The religious ties that the Christian and Muslim world, which accounts for roughly half the human population, has with Judaism.

The Arab world's threat to cut off the world's lifeline - oil - over the Israeli-Arab issue, and serious concerns that this may happen.

A third reason has emerged: Global terror is interpreted, especially in the United States and other countries that support Israel, as a war waged by Islam against the West.

The Muslim world really has no quarrel with the free world. There are certain ideological Muslim fanatics (such as Osama bin Laden and Hamas extremists) who manipulate the Muslim faith against the free world. But most Muslims oppose these criminals.

Some Palestinians - driven by the occupation - perpetrate horrific acts. But unlike bin Laden and his counterparts, they are not motivated by fanatic ideology, just by despair. Unfortunately, many people tend to compare ideological terror with that of the Palestinians; they could not be more misguided.

Unless we understand that Palestinian terror is largely motivated by the occupation and the desperation it has caused, the world will continue to perceive the Palestinians as a nation of terrorists and it will be impossible to end the conflict. If this happens, terror will continue and many more good people on both sides will die.

The Palestinians support fighting Israeli occupation and consider the activists as soldiers of peace, while in Israel and throughout the world they are seen as terrorists.

Was my son killed by terrorists or freedom fighters?

If I adopt a popular Israeli perspective and say it was terrorists, I will gain much empathy. But this would get us nowhere near solving the Israeli-Palestinian problem, and more children will inevitably die.

If I say it was freedom fighters, I will gain much scorn from many fellow Israelis. But perhaps this will bring the conflict nearer to a close.

Let me say loud and clear: My son was killed at the hands of Palestinians who were fighting Israeli occupation.

Only if we put an end to the occupation will we be able to sit together and solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem. To end the occupation, we must take vigorous action toward reconciliation between the two peoples.

Yitzhak Frankenthal is manager of Parents' Circle Families Forum - Bereaved Families for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace.

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